Anuradha’s morning hours happens to be too hectic. Starting with brewing the tea, sipping it to shake away the lethargy then preparing breakfast and simultaneously for lunch – the chores appears endless to her. But maximum time is taken in dressing up. What should she choose between saree and mekhela-chaddar, did she wear the same the previous week, after choosing whether the matching blouse is ok or not, is it perfectly fitting and whether it needs a little touch up with a needle – so many calculations needs to be done. Running after all these errands sometimes she is afraid whether she is actually breathing or not. Same is also true for Rashmi ~ her mate in the rented house.
Anuradha cannot get up before seven thirty in the morning as she regularly gets late to sleep. Rashmi wakes up a bit early. By the time Anuradha parts with her bed, Rashmi finishes her bathroom chores. Anuradha can get up a bit earlier too, but as because they share the same washroom, rather than waiting for her pacing in the room, she prolongs the pleasant feeling of the sleep. She utilizes this gap to send a ‘good morning’ message to Rajiv. She keeps on gazing at the mobile screen till Rajiv responds to her message. If some fifteen-twenty minutes passes by before the response flashes on the screen, she rings up. Normally she finds him sleeping. Sometimes he does not hear the ring if it is put in silent mode. She does not calm down till he receives the call.
“Hey, are you going to take bath or not? Keep off the mobile for now. If we do not reach before the prayers, the headmaster would give us a dressing down again”. – Rashmi shouts as she notices Anuradha changing postures lying down with the mobile. No, Anuradha won’t budge till she gets a response from Rajiv.
“You act as if you people are the only pair in the world to be in love”. Rashmi murmurs and starts preparing roti for lunch.
If the moment coincides with a message or phone call from Rajiv, Anuradha would break into a run to grab Rashmi from behind and say, ‘Hi, sorry, sorry, coming in two minutes, I would prepare the vegetables’, and would make a dash to the bathroom.
“It must be two minutes, ok, else I’d leave. You come along at your convenience”. – Rashmi warns from kitchen behind her. Sometimes she gets late in waiting for Rajiv’s response. Rashmi leaves. Rashmi is the class teacher of class five. She must reach by ten. Anuradha’s class starts only from second period. So it does not matter much if she is a bit late. But headmaster Bordoloi strictly instructed every teacher to make it to the prayers without fail. Let the teachers who are not scheduled to impart lessons on the first period relax in the common room, but everyone must make it to school by ten o’clock.
It had been some six months that Anuradha joined this school. Contractual teacher. Some said – ‘What is the use of going for such jobs? You may be terminated at any moment.’ Few others suggested, ‘What do you lose in earning some job experience rather than just sitting idle at home?’
Rajiv tried to reason with her – ‘Go for a different job rather than be a petty school teacher. Prepare well, appear in competitive examinations, try out with Bank jobs. You have to come to Mumbai after marriage. It is easier to get a transfer of you get a job in a nationalized Bank. Or rather just stick to studying, it would be easier to find a job in Mumbai after you arrive. What is the use of being a school teacher – mere waste of time.
‘It had been two years since I completed MSc. Could not get a breakthrough yet. So I do not want to let this job slip from my hand that I got with little effort. Or tell me, you will marry me soon? This year itself?” – She retorted.
‘It has just been four-five years since I joined the job. The software industry market is quite down now. I cannot take risk to marry now. Let the market improve. It’d be at least two years.’
‘Then? I cannot run around just appearing interviews seeking a job for next two years. My plan is during daytime I’d attend to school, at night study for myself. The effort on preparation would be on, ok?’
Rajiv did not respond. She understood. For the first time she went ahead to do something against his consent. She made up her mind to be cautious at every moment so that her decision do not invite any flak from Rajiv in future.
The school is located some seven kilometers away from the heart of the town. Kadamtol High School. Named after the village. It can’t be exactly termed a village as it is not quite far from town. The spot where the bus stops is popularly known as Kadamtol chowk. Some people say Kadamtol Chowk (square). There has been considerable development in the place in last two-three years. Several shops have sprung that keeps the square lively in the morning and evening. The school is half a kilometer north of the chowk. It is nearly sixty kilometer from Anuradha’s home to Kadamtol. Luckily Rashmi, her university classmate also got into the same school simultaneously. As it is not convenient to ply by bus every day both thought of taking a house at rent to stay together. One may even visit home on Saturdays. A peon from the school found a house for them near the school. The owner stays in a large house in front. The rented house is behind it. They liked it though it was somewhat small. No problem with water. The bathroom is also inside the house, attached. Anuradha rang up Rajiv to inform about the news of rented house.
“Is it secured? How far is the owner’s house?”
“Quite near. Just in front.”
: Who are there staying in the owner’s house?
: Two sons. One I met. Appeared gentlemanly. He showed us around the house. Learning that we are just starters in a job reduced the rent by two hundred rupees too.
: Listen, no need to stay there. The owner’s son is not going to reduce the rent for nothing. I can sense that he has got evil intensions.
: What are you saying Rajib? We have even booked the house paying some advance. How can we go back on our words?
” I am telling, you can’t stay there. If needed, I’d make up for the advance amount. Is there no other options at all? Or is that you don’t feel like staying in a house without a young son?” – Rajib concluded the conversation.
Anger swelled up inside her. Anuradha understood. He stays away, far from her. He would definitely be worried for her, feel from heart about her safety every moment. This is natural.
Finally they found the present rented house after a couple of days of thorough exploration. It is about half a kilometer from Kadamtol chowk towards south. Not more than one kilometer from school. Owners are senior citizens. They are the sole occupants. Got both their daughters married off. Rajiv felt relieved. One large room – a small kitchen nearby. Bathroom is outside behind the house. Rashmi was little hesitant about that. After hearing ‘make it final, no second thought’ from Rajib Anuradha had no reason to say no.
: Rajib is just too much. We found such a nice accommodation so near to the school – Rashmi murmured
: What to do. He is little caring. Worries about little things.
: Luckily I don’t have a boyfriend – Rashmi laughed. Anuradha joined too.
Both the families know about the relation between Rajib and her. There is nothing to disagree. Though both are from the same city, she met Rajib only after she went to university. He was in the final semester of engineering then. The affair continued since. He left for Mumbai to work after passing out. He makes it a point to visit Anuradha’s family as he visits home once in a year. She likes to define him as caring than deeply possessive.
They are not facing any problem in the rented house. They use to trek to school regularly. Sometimes need to hire a rickshaw if they are late. A vegetable market springs up in the afternoon at the chowk. They buy their necessities there. The owner lady is very caring. Often she gives them a bowlful at least one item of curry or fry. On their part, if they cook fish or meat during holidays they too reciprocate.
As they walk to school, Anuradha often notices a boy waiting at the chowk. She became aware of the fact some two months back. There is a small eatery just before the chowk. The boy is found sitting on his bike sipping tea at the very juncture they walk to school by that stall. Holds a newspaper on one hand while holding the glass of tea with the other. He looks furtively as they cross the point. Appears little flushed when their eyes meet. Putting down the glass of tea on the seat of the bike, he tries to hide his eyes behind the newspaper holding now with both hands. After they pass by, he puts down the newspaper and keeps looking at them till they melt away from sight. Anuradha does not look back, but feels that the gaze of the boy is sticking to them like a shadow for a good distance.
: Hi Rashmi, just mind that boy sitting on a bike in front of the hotel. Don’t look directly…steal a glance… furtively… Anuradha told her one day as they were walking to school.
: The one with the red shirt?
: Yes yes… just try to notice how he would be watching our steps secretively.
: Leave it, he is just sipping tea and reading the newspaper. .. And how can you call that a boy. He would be thirty plus – for sure.
: Consider him a boy. Must be our contemporary. And should we call him middle aged if he is just thirty plus.
: Ok, let him be a boy. But he is not looking at us. If he is looking with some secret eyes, I don’t know. – Rashmi laughed.
: Listen, as we would pass by, he would gaze at us from behind. You’d know of yourself just look back once.
They move on. Rashmi moved her head once to look at the boy.
: You really have some weird thoughts. Why, he has been looking somewhere else and sipping tea. Just commented on that hapless boy. – Rashmi gets a little angered.
: I don’t know what happened today. Believe me, he actually watches us regularly.
: Hey, everyone looks at girls. Just don’t give a damn. And, you know, he appears fine as far as looks go … and why should you watch him with so much credence? See, I’d but inform Rajiv. – Rashmi teased her.
: Uhh, Why are you accusing me? For the last fortnight I have noticed him at the same spot, so the thought just crossed my mind. – Though she said that she shot the same question to her ownself that Rashmi raised, why does she notice him furtively? She could not delve out the answer’. I shall never ever mention about this lad in front of Rashmi’ , – she decided.
One day he was not waiting in front of the stall. As Anuradha reaches the square, she starts feeling a strange tingling sensation in her limbs. That day she was little worried as he was not present in his usual haunt. She looked around. Her eyes made a quick recce inside the hotel too. No, he is nowhere. As she was pondering, she suddenly discovered him in a bookstall at the other side of the road. She found him watching her holding a book in his hands. She was embarrassed. He appeared to have greeted her with a smiled too.
‘As I reach this spot I would either look straight down near my feet, or straight up the road’ – she chided herself.
It happened some one month back. That day Rashmi had been on leave ~ she went home. Just before reaching the square, the strap of the sandal on her right foot gave away. She picked it up to discover the strap searing midway into two. It is certainly a case for cobbler to handle. A cobbler sits regularly under the fig tree at the square. She tried to walk carefully pressing the big toe and the first toe together. If after one step the strap remains between the toes, she takes a deep breath of relief. Else, the toes have to search for the detached end, wiggle it to its designated position, then puts forwards another careful step. Sometimes the sandal skitters ahead for about a foot. She takes a hurried step barefoot to put her foot on it.
After she has noticed the boy, she lose rhythm in her steps as she reached near the hotel. The right hand moved instinctively to her forehead to push a few strands of hair to the forehead. Next moment, the same lock of hair is again shoved into the bun. The handkerchief is used twice in a minute to rub the nose. She could not decide what to do with her left hand. Once she arranges the edges of the chaddar. Then peeps inside the bag without actually particularly delving anything, so that the boy takes an impression that she is checking whether an important document has been brought or not. She speaks somewhat incoherently. She smiled in response to the news of Rashmi’s brother meeting an accident, at the news of Rashmi’s sister clearing her Masters with a first class she made such a face with a ‘hmmm’ that it appeared she was about to break down. She immediately recovers though. She blushes. Again steals a glance at the boy.
She took about ten minutes to cover the hundred metres. She was about to reach the ‘chowk’. The cobbler was nowhere in sight. The boy would be waiting there! What would he think if he notices her walking funnily. Once she thought, should she make an act to fall and feign getting injured in her legs? Then she argued herself what is to there to be ashamed of if one learns about the torn straps of her sandals! At that very juncture, the sandal flew again. The mobile rang. It was Rajib.
: You have not reached? As I did not get the message, I thought …
: Oh, Hell, it is so embarrassing … my sandal strap gave away just after walking a little distance. I am literally limping, you know. Not even halfway through yet.
: Why did you not return and change ?
: As I already walked some distance, the thought of going back did not strike my mind at all.
: You people don’t think the matters from practical angle. Just ruminate on useless issues.
: Ok, now I’d get it mended with the cobbler, or take a rickshaw. Just a little distance now.
: It has been more than fifteen minutes since you started. See now you’d be late. And didn’t you notice the wobbly strap while putting on? You should be careful in checking things, or such cases would be repeated.
: How am I to know in advance that the strap’d give way. The sun is shining hard above, the heat …
: That’s what I am saying, you are not practical.
At that juncture, she noticed the boy. He was astride the bike and started it. And coming towards her at a very decent speed.
: I reached school, thank you, bye. She lied instantly, instinctively. The boy reached near her. She stopped.
: Please don’t mind. Any problem? – He stopped the bike and asked.
: No, no, what problem? – She did not expect the boy to come forward and ask in such a manner.
: I was noticing you from a distance. It appeared that you are somewhat uncomfortable, so I asked. Please don’t mind.
: Actually the strap of my sandal gave way. Finding it little difficult to walk.
: Ok, that is the issue. A cobbler sits there usually. But today I do not see him. You work in the school, isn’t it? I can give you a lift, if you feel comfortable.
: No, thanks. I can manage.
: I understand. You are not feeling comfortable to pillion ride on my bike. It is normal, actually my mistake…Just wait. Let me get a rickshaw from the square.
: I’ll be fine..you are just taking pain. Uh! The strap had to give way at this moment only!
: Don’t bother! These are actually accidents. No one knows what happens and with whom however careful one is. Your strap giving way is also an accident, though a small one. Just take, I am riding the bike, suddenly a tyre may be punctured. That’d be an accident. Much more serious incidents may befall a person without any forewarning. Understand? And it is inhumanely to go away without helping a person in distress. Just hold on for a minute.
He fetched a rickshaw from the chowk. She was waiting there. She looked at the boy after getting onto the rickshaw. She could not manage a proper smile too. Only after moving some distance she realized, “Oh! I did not even thank him.”
That day on the way back she looked around as she reached the usual spot to spot him. But could not.
Next day she felt like going a little decked up. She brought out a new pair of mekhela-chaddar. Usually she does not put on eyeliner when she goes to school. That day she put on lightly.
That day too the boy was there at his usual haunt. As she thought of thanking him with a smile, he got busy in perusing the newspaper. Perhaps he was not reading actually. Maybe he distanced himself from her gaze.
After a couple of days Rashmi joined her back. She felt a deep urge to share the events, but could not. Something stopped her.
On landing back from home, Rashmi gets highly melancholic.
: Would you go for a movie? Today the school breaks at one p.m. We shall watch the matinee show at two, ok? – Anuradha put forward the proposal. Two more teachers, both of their age are there in the school. They joined around the same time too. A very cordial and friendly relationship developed among all the four. It is some six kilometers from the school to the nearest town. They hitch a ride on their bike whenever they need to go to town on some errands. There is a small, old cinema hall in the town. They have never been there before. Rashmi is a movie buff. They enjoyed the movie. Bought a few essentials too.
As they were returning, Rajib rang up. His voice could not be heard properly over the sound of bike and wind. He rang again. She rejected the call thinking of calling him back after reaching her rented house. The phone rang again. It was Rajib. She asked her colleague to stop the bike and received the call moving to the side of the road.
: Anu, found your phone switched off for a long time. What is the matter? Then you were not receiving my call? What is the matter?
: Rajib, sorry. Actually I was in the theatre. Planned suddenly. I rang you once, but could not connect. Then I had to switch off inside the hall. Anyway I would have called you back after reaching back.
: don’t you know how much I worry about you? You are yet to reach your rented house?
: No, on the way. Riding on a bike with a colleague. He would drop me there.
: Whaaat? Riding pillion at this hour of evening? What do I do now? Could not you get any auto-tempo that ply regularly in that route? Or is it that the enjoyment of holding onto someone while pillion riding is quite thrilling?
: Rajib please..you could say that? He is our colleague, a very good friend.
: No I feel afraid, I find it difficult to believe…please understand. Take an auto and go home, please. – Rajib ended the conversation.
After waiting for a few minutes, she asked her colleague to return, saying,
: I have a thing to attend to here, you move on please.
: I can wait, Here, in this place? Suddenly? How can you reach home?
: You please go. An acquaintance is coming by, I would go with him. – he left.
It is already evening.
She could not find any tempo coming back from town to accommodate her. She tried to contact Rashmi. She also did not pick up the call. Perhaps she too was on the way.
Suddenly she saw the boy, the one she always finds in front of the hotel. He was riding the bike.
: Seeing you alone in a desolate place, just stopped to see if I could help. – he stopped near her.
: Nothing like that. Waiting for auto, yet to get one. – She smiled. She was somewhat perplexed at her spontaneous response.
: I could have offered you a lift on my bike to your residence. But if someone gets the chance to pass a comment for riding with an unknown person, you would get hurt. Sometimes even if we see a just path in front of us, still ‘what people would say, what they would think’ type inhibitions stops us from treading that path, isn’t it? – Anuradha stared at him spellbound.
: Let me arrange an auto for you. I would be following you till you reach your place. You can feel absolutely safe.
That day she reached her rented house in an auto. As she was getting down, the boy returned without waiting for her thanks or whatever. Anuradha was mentally prepared and even rehearsed to thank him properly with a few words but he did not provide her the opportunity. She gets upset if things do not roll out in her expected way. That was one of such day.
That night too she could not connect with Rajib even after numerous attempts. She passed a painful night. Rajib rang up next morning at about nine.
: I was attempting to talk to you the entire night. Not reachable. Where are you? Her voice faltered. It came out louder than normal.
: Why are you shouting? I forgot to inform you last night as I was angry. I was travelling to Goa from Mumbai the entire night. Perhaps could not get signal inside the moving train.
: You have gone to Goa? You could at least have messaged me.
: Two of my colleagues suddenly planned in the afternoon. Boarded the train at a whim. Just reached.
: I could not sleep the entire night, understand?
: Leave it. You girls worry like anything. Now don’t put my mood off, I have come to enjoy and relax.
Devastated, she could not attend school for two days. Rajib too did not ring up during that period.
Rashmi tried to console her. See, such things are normal in long distance relationship. Just because you do not remain at eyesight, your thoughts appear to be covered by a translucent cover. When you’d stay together you’d see, everything clear.
That day around midday she was just relaxing sitting on the verandah sipping tea. Suddenly she heard the horn of a bike. She looked up to see that very youth. She rose and walked up to the gate.
: Did not notice you at the school for last couple of days. Everything fine?
: Yes. It was just a trivial personal problem.
: I just wanted to tell you something. .. Biren..your school chowkidar, his wife works as domestic help. On the other hand, Biren doubts she has relationship with the owners of the houses she works. She is actually a good woman. She works just to make both ends meet. She has been locked inside the house for last two days without food and water. We came to know yesterday only. Went to school in search of him. Please try to get him to reason. He would definitely listen to you.
We were not aware of all these. We would definitely reason with him.
: Please do not take otherwise. Actually faith is the basis of all relationship. Every relationship is a bond, but in that bonding no one must feel incarcerated. Many do not comprehend, that’s why the relationships get eroded. – the boy left saying so. Anuradha felt a tremor in her heart. It continued for quite some time.
During one of their routine conversation, Rajib informed her that as he would visit home during the ensuing Puja, he would pay a visit to her place. Though both the families are well aware of the relationship, there had not been any formal talk regarding the issue yet. He added that the marriage would be solemnized by the middle of the coming year. Hearing this Rashmi made a face for a couple of days saying that she’d go mad of loneliness if Anuradha leaves. Though initially Anuradha felt happy at that very moment she started feeling a sense of sorrowfulness pricking her.
That very day Rashmi saying ‘Don’t know where you would be staying next year as a married woman’ proposed for a Shillong trip on the day the summer holiday would commence.
Got to ask Rajib – Anuradha responded.
Just for one day. Would return by night the same day. Tell him that all our staff members would be going.
Anuradha asked Rajib accordingly. He gave consent instantly. She was little perplexed. The sound of her kiss wafted to the mobile screen.
They went to Shillong day before yesterday. It was group visit comprising of fifteen teachers. The fine weather there calmed her body and mind. It started drizzling just as they set foot on the ground there. Rajib called at that very moment.
: You can give me call on arrival?
: I just got down. And, it is drizzling! You know, I like rain so much! Everywhere green, and the raindrops are caressing my face like a shower of pearls…Uhh! What a celestial feeing! I wish you had been beside me!” Anuradha extended the other hand and closed her eyes.
: What are you wearing?
: Tee Shirt and jeans. You know I don’t wear mekhela-chaddar in outings! – She giggled.
: You are getting drenched wearing just a tee? It must have got stuck to your skin by now. The people accompanying must be having an eyeful? Yes, you always want that only?
The call was disrupted. Anuradha tried a few times. No network. All her euphoria vanished! If Rajib thinks she cut off the call in anger! She wrapped the light scarf that she carried thoroughly covering her head and torso. As she moved to sit inside the car she noticed the very boy in front of her. The boy she always notices in front of the hotel. How did he arrive here? She was astonished.
: How come you are here?
: I too am pondering how can you be here! I have come here with a few of my friends. You must have come with your staff members?
: Yes. It is raining. I would take a sit inside the vehicle.
: Why? You don’t enjoy rain? Just go to that spot beside the road. From there you’d see endless expanse of green and the azure blue sky above dotted with clouds. Enjoy those celestial moments by standing there for a few minutes. The raindrops would slowly caress every spot of your body and gradually transmit you to an altogether different world. You just keep your eyes shut. As you open your eyes a completely different world would be waiting for you. You’d notice, you would be fervently wanting to start a new free life in this new world. … I don’t write poems, but I don’t know why I am talking to you in poetic language. Maybe, the entire ambience is responsible for that. – The boy went away laughing loudly.
Anuradha switched off her mobile and went ahead in the attraction of a new life as the boy said.
Anuradha had switched off her mobile set since day before yesterday. Rajiv has tried more than twenty times during this period. Anuradha has not responded even once. Rashmi reasoned hard to pacify her.
: I am not talking as I have understood everything now – was her reply.
Rashmi left for home in the afternoon. Anuradha would follow after two days. She felt deeply from her heart to meet the boy once. His name, what he does – she felt the urge to learn everything about him.
She came out for a stroll to the chowk in the evening. The boy was missing from his usual spot – the front of the hotel. Her searching eyes found him standing in front of another shop nearby.
: Are you fine? – She started the conversation.
: Are you asking me? – The boy enquired.
: Yes. Actually a good number of thanks have been pending to be said. – She smiled.
: Pardon please – I cannot make out what you are saying.
: During last few days you taught me, explained, so many things, helped me a lot…
: I do not know you. Perhaps it is the first time I have seen you. It may be mix-up of identity.
: Don’t you stay here every morning, sipping tea, glancing through the news papers.
: That’s true, but I never remember seeing you.
Anuradha stood dumbstruck. For some days now the things are racking her brain. She gained composure after a few moments.
: Sorry, I mistook you for someone else-as you said.
The boy left riding his bike. It is raining. She folded her umbrella and put in her bag and invited the shower of rain extending her hands to her heart. She pirouetted like a tiny girl in that gesture. She felt so free. She felt the entire world to be very dear to her. For the first time she fell in love with her – her life.
She again looked up at the boy driving away from her. He reached far. She murmured in soliloquy- Thank You.